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COVID-19 Dinn-ovation: Decoding Family Fave Secrets

I’m sure the author of the blog post I’m going to mention in a moment never thought of others coming to data-mine it to reveal the secrets to innovating dinner dishes for the family during the long – and lengthening – COVID-19 lock down. But her mammoth 60-recipe list does tell a useful tale…

Tortilla Casserole - Kraft - © Kraft/HeinzTex-Mex Shredded Chicken Tortilla Casserole: One of the easiest, most-
loved suppers you can make, especially for cold weather days!

The minute I saw the headline of this post, I said to myself, “Here we go: Another boring list of Pizza variants and Pasta Bakes.”

Sister Erin gave me a mental dig in the ribs. “Don’t be such a snob! If that’s what the family wants, take the hint. They’ll love you for it, and you can add your own touches to satisfy your compulsive need to ‘create’ new (-ish) stuff.”

That meant nothing to me at first, but when I got to scanning down the list, I realized that a simple analysis of the ingredients involved in these recipes could, in fact, reveal the essential family-favourite ingredients and flavours the smart COVID-19 cook should have in his or her pantry, to facilitate ongoing (endless?) innovation of suppers and lunches for their family as the crisis goes on. And on, and on, and on…

A  pattern emerged

Looking at the family- and kid-approved array of suppers from that fresh perspective, a pattern soon emerged: The recipes resolved themselves into a compact collection of main-dish styles using a ‘core’ list of all-time favourite main ingredients every cook has had experience with and whose family probably loves.

The styles broke down naturally into the following half dozen or so that most us are all-too-familiar with:

  • Pizza Variants (no surprise, there!)
  • Pasta Variants
  • Casseroles
  • Tex-Mex Stylings
  • Chicken Dishes
  • Ground Beef Dishes
  • Sandwiches and Burgers
  • Finger Foods

Common ingredients kept popping up

Ingredients common to many of the dishes kept popping up as if to say, “Here I am again! Doesn’t that tell you something?”

Yes, well… From the ‘fresh perspective’ view, it did! And the following list of core ingredients to always have on hand quickly bubbled up to the top of the pot:

  • Pasta of all the shapes and sizes your family prefers.
  • Cheese – Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack; whatever flies with your audience.
  • Bread and Buns – Again, whatever you find you’re using over and over again in your recipe choices.
  • Tortillas – Both large Flour and Small (Taco-sized) Corn ones.
  • Bread Crumbs – A must. And always save your Bread Crusts to run through the blender or Food Processor to make Crumbs. You’ll be surprised how often you use Crumbs in Cassereoles and for Breading!
  • Ready-made Pasta Sauces – And your own home-made ones, of course! My experience is, when I follow my heart planning suppers, I go through a lot of Marinara, in its many variations.
  • Ground Beef – You can buy large, family Packs and freeze it in single-meal-sized portions.
  • Boneless Chicken – In all the forms you’ll use in your recipes. Breasts and Tenders, mainly, I suspect, that you can break down further into Chunks, Nuggets, Shreds and whatever, as you wish. Again, Chicken can be purchased in Family Packs and frozen in smaller, meal-sized portions.
  • A big box of frozen Beef and/or Chicken Meatballs (Golfball-sized).
  • A pack or two of Good Quality Chicken or Turkey Hot Dogs.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers – Green ones are almost always cheaper and more plentiful than Reds, Yellows or Orange ones. Always have a couple in the fridge.
  • Fresh Jalapeños – So much better than pickled from a jar! Again, have a couple in the fridge.
  • A can or two of Adobo Peppers – Just because there’s really no other ingredient that you can substitute that’s quite the same.
  • Kidney Beans and Black Beans – Canned, from the Tex-Mex specialty sector at the supermarket. A couple of the most-frequently specified ingredients for Tex-Mex dishes and Casseroles in general.
  • Chicken and Beef Stock – Because so many Casseroles, Stews and Soups call for them. Boxed from the store is just fine. Try to get the low- or no-Sodium kind so you can control the amount of Salt your family is getting.
  • Romain Lettuce
  • Onions –  Red and Sweet, please. They’re a little more expensive than boring old Yellow Cooking Onions, and you can use them in place of Yellows when cooking. You and your family deserve the extra flavour and zing ‘special’ Onions add to dishes!
  • Green Onions / Scallions – Because they’re a never-fail top dressing for Salads and are called for in so often in Casseroles and Asian dishes.
  • Carrots and Celery – Because, along with Onions, they are the two other members of the classic Aromatic Veggie trio which is so often called for as a starting point in recipes of all sorts.
  • Eggs – Because, on average, one out of every three recipes ever dreamed up calls for ‘1 large Egg’, in some capacity or another.
  • Pastry Dough – From a can, like the kind Pillsbury makes for Rollups. Because there’s really nothing else like it, taste- and texture-wise, for Pigs-In-Blankets Variants. And the idea here is that these supper menu items are supposed to be quick and minimum mess affairs.

If you always have most or all of the above ‘in stock’ in your pantry and fridge, you’ll be ready to fulfill any popular weeknight or special dinner requests your family is likely to pull out of its collective hat!

If the above seems like a long list, stop to consider how many of these ingredients you already keep in the house on a regular basis!

Finally, a little push-off…

To get you going, here’s the link to the recipe array I consulted as my data base form compiling the above lists of styles and ingredients for no-fail, all-time-fave family suppers…

~ Maggie J.

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